Manatee officials add port, seafood venture to oil spill 'wish list'

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Construction taking place in November 2012 to extend Berth 12 by 584 feet to accommodate giant ships coming from the Panama Canal in the future, say Port Manatee officials. HERALD FILE PHIOTO

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MANATEE -- County officials have added Port Manatee infrastructure projects and a seafood venture to those they want financed with funds stemming from the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

The county has added maintenance improvements to existing docks and wharfs at Port Manatee to its "wish list" for money stemming from civil penalties after the BP oil spill.

The county also wants grant money to promote seafood harvested from the Gulf Coast region, via a business venture called Sun Coast Heritage Seafood Co., according to a letter commissioners OK'd Thursday during a land-use meeting.

The draft proposal for repairs to the port's older berths and docks, and the seafood initiative, are in addition to the county request for $68.6 million in ecosystem restoration projects, said Charlie Hunsicker, county director of parks and natural resources.

"They're not final proposals by either group, the intent was to establish a meaningful description of the concept, which revolves around supporting port infrastructure and projects to promote the seafood harvesting, processing and consumption benefitting our unique Cortez commercial fishery here," said Hunsicker after the meeting.

The RESTORE Act passed by Congress directs the use of funds resulting from the oil spill.

"I think that the RESTORE Act specifically singled out ports" and backed reconstruction of coastal areas, said Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras.

"So, we and Manatee County have partnered to be on the program, along with other Florida Gulf Coast ports, to pursue projects related to this act for port expansion and job creation," Buqueras said.

The oil disaster began April 20, 2010, when an oil-drilling platform caught fire and exploded in the Gulf, polluting beaches in five states, including sections of the Florida Panhandle and areas of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Manatee beaches remained pristine, but although it escaped the oil itself, the county suffered collateral economic impacts and has a stake in ensuring the Gulf ecosystem can rebound in the future, officials have said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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